The Overland Trail


Indian problems plagued the entire west during westward movement. The emigrants, the Indians said, had invaded and defiled their lands and endangered their good hunting grounds, senselessly slaughtering bison and other game. The U.S. government was accused of bad faith in breaking the Indian treaties and failing to make gifts. During 1862 and 1863 the Plains Indians were able to acquire many firearms and horses from wagon trains, and stage coaches, even though many troops were stationed along the route. It was evident that a general uprising was being planned.

Governor Evans of Colorado kept in close communication with those traders who seemed to know exactly what was going on. In September of 1863, he made an effort to meet with some Indians north of Denver to make a treaty of peace. Unfortunately, Governor Evans found them insolent and neither persuasion nor bribery would convince them to come to the proposed meeting.

The mail service was often interrupted which caused the Postmaster in Denver to complain. At one point, the stage station at Latham had accumulated about three tons of sacked mail. When rumors came of an impending attack, the station master piled up sacks of mail clear to the ceiling to provide protection. The Indians continued to take horses and provisions from the Overland Mail company and continued to destroy the stations in an effort to stop the "paper wagons" as they called the mail-coaches.

As a consequence of the Indian problems to the north, the U.S. Army stationed a number of troops to guard the stage coaches and families in the La Porte area. This new post was called Camp Collins, in honor of Lt. Col William O. Collins. Certain routes were designated for wagon trains to follow heading west. The Overland Trail route from Julesburg to Denver and on west through La Porte and Virginia Dale to Ft. Bridger where it joined the old Oregon Trail, became the only route emigrants were permitted to travel upon from 1864 to 1866.

All during the year of 1864, the Overland Stage route continued to encounter problems with the Indians resulting in many emigrants killed and hundreds of horses and mules run off. Ranches along the South Platte and the Cache la Poudre were attacked, with men killed and women and children taken prisoner, and livestock stolen, and the ranch buildings burned. Over 75 miles of road along the South Platte were wrecked, the telegraph line was destroyed and several hundred tons of hay was burned. Governor Evans proclaimed that "anyone who kills a hostile Indian is a patriot." The only problem was that there were many "friendlies"--Indians who had no desire to harm the white man.

The unfortunate massacre of peaceful Indians at Sand Creek, in southern Colorado Territory, in the late fall of 1864, just incited the Indians even more. All the stations between Julesburg and Denver were burned; overland communication was halted and Denver faced a famine. In early January 1865, over one thousand Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho attacked the Julesburg settlement. All windows, doors, and furniture in the town were smashed, and the stagecoach was robbed. In February of that year, about 1500 Indians returned to Julesburg and took possession of the entire town. Most of the buildings were burned with Holladay's claims for damages from the Julesburg raid amounting to $117,000.

At this point, the Holladay Overland line was in a sorry state. Not only was livestock destroyed, grain and hay to feed the remaining livestock was burned and scattered. Holladay tried to secure forage from the government, but was turned town since available feed was needed for military livestock. The government did order that military corn stored at Omaha be sent to Holladay in an effort to keep the stagecoaches operating. Holladay was able to reopen the Overland Mail service in April of 1865 with military escorts protecting the stages and the telegraph lines along the route.

During 1865 the spreading Indian Wars would engulf the entire 200 mile stretch of the Cherokee Trail along the Front Range and into Wyoming. In June, 1865 Schuyler Colfax, the Speaker of House of Representatives for the U.S. Congress was making an inspection tour of the West. He departed from Denver on the way to Salt Lake City and arrived in Fort Collins late in the day on June 3, 1865.

Soldiers from the garrison were detailed to escort Schuyler safely to Fort Halleck in Wyoming. When they got to the Virginia Dale stage station, they learned that raids had occurred further north on the previously peaceful section of the line. They stayed a day at Virginia Dale, and then scooted out of the territory in a hurry.

On June 8th the Cheyenne and Sioux raided La Porte and attacked the homestead of Antoine Janis, the valley's first white settler. They also attacked two emigrant wagon trains heading north. By now the main road and stage line all the way into Wyoming was under general attack on a daily basis. The army reacted with alarm to all this and dispatched four companies of cavalry to Fort Collins to reinforce the garrison. The soldiers were then split into smaller detachments and posted at the stage stations, including Virginia Dale, and scattered throughout northern Colorado and Wyoming. The Indians just bypassed the strong points and went on raiding.

Indian troubles continued along the various stage and overland routes through out the year, and it became difficult for Holladay to keep a sufficient number of animals healthy and alive in order to haul the stagecoaches. As 1866 approached, the U.S. government finally became convinced to listen to peace overtures from the Sioux and the Cheyennes, and in early 1868, peace council commenced at Fort Laramie with representatives of the hostile Indian tribes and the U.S. government in attendance. The government brought thousands of dollars and many gifts to the Indians, and the fort issued rations of meat, grains, coffee, sugar, salt and soap in the tons to the Indians until its supply was exhausted.

Unfortunately, not all tribes recognized the peace treaty, and Indian depredations continued all across the plains. More military posts were erected along the stage and wagon routes, and gradually the Indian problems decreased. The Indians had been greatly abused by the white man in general. Miners and emigrants had crossed their lands and driven away the game which gave them food and shelter. Buffalo were ruthlessly destroyed and left to rot on the prairies. The government was not always wise in the way it attempted to handle the problems, and it has been generally agreed that the government's Indian policy between 1861 and 1868 had been a dismal failure.

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